How to Read Woodworking Plans (Understanding Plans and Drawings)

If you’re a beginner in the world of woodworking, then alongside making sure that you have all of the right equipment and a suitable space to begin undertaking woodworking projects, you’re going to need to make sure that you understand how to read woodworking plans, too!

For those who are just starting out, all it can take is one look at a woodworking plan in order to get lost.

From the complex diagrams, overlapping images, all the way to the arrows pointing to different parts that need to be assembled - it’s safe to say that to the untrained eye, woodworking plans can be confusing, to say the least. 

Nevertheless, though it might be tempting to skip the woodworking plan, every good woodworker knows that a detailed woodworking plan is essential to successfully assembling and completing any woodworking project - no matter how small or big.

Just like the way you need a good map whenever you embark on a journey, the same goes for woodworking.

Without a quality woodworking plan, it’s highly likely that you’re going to get confused in the process and unsure of what you need to do next - and that’s where we come in to lend you a helping hand.

In this article, we’re going to be talking you through everything you need to know about woodworking plans, as well as how to read them. So, whenever you’re ready, let’s jump right in!

What Makes a Good Woodworking Plan?

Before we jump into how to read a woodworking plan, we think that it’s a good idea to talk you through what makes for a good woodworking plan, and what doesn’t. Let’s check them out below:

  • It should be a “blueprint” of the woodworking design that you have in mind that you want to make. This means that it should, at the very least, come with detailed step-by-step instructions on what to do.
  • All of the woodworking equipment, tools, and materials required to make the woodworking design should be listed at the top of the plan, otherwise, you won’t know what you will need to make it.
  • Though it is not necessary, a good woodworking plan will offer you a variety of woodworking finishing choices for you to pick.
  • It should, very clearly, state all of the important safety precautions that you will need to keep in mind and follow while you are working on your woodworking project.

How to Read a Woodworking Plan

Now that you have an idea of what makes a good woodworking plan, you will now be ready to begin working on your project.

As soon as you’ve picked the woodworking design that you would like to create, you will then need to begin taking a look at the woodworking plan so that you’re aware of what you need to do. 

If it’s going to be your first time using a woodworking plan, then rest assured that it’s very common for people to feel overwhelmed by the different drawings, shapes, and instructions.

But, the longer that you spend getting your head around basic woodworking plans, you’re going to find that you’re able to understand the different aspects more easily, and will in turn be able to follow one correctly while you are assembling your woodworking project.

Generally speaking, there tend to be three different types of drawings that typically characterize a woodworking plan, which are the proposal, the working, and then the shop.

The initial proposal drawing often tends to contain a variety of scaled drawings that will make it easy for the client to understand when explained.

Then comes the working drawing, which is a section of the woodworking plan that typically contains all of the different dimensions and amount of material needed to create each part.

Then, you’ll have the shop drawing, which consists of a very detailed drawing of the woodworking design and is there to serve as a visual guide of what the finished product should look like.

In addition to this, there will also usually be a drawing of the completed woodworking project at four different angles, which is included in the woodworking plan in order to help you assemble the design.

Besides the basics which we have specified above, woodworking plans will also consist of different lines that will vary in thickness.

These lines are used in the drawings of the piece in order to display different aspects of the design and are intended to serve as a visual aid to help you understand the structure of the piece.

Of course, there will also be additional instructional symbols such as numbers and arrows, but lines are by far the most important part that you will need to follow when referring to your woodworking plan.

To breakdown woodworking plans some more, let’s take a look at the most important aspects that you’re likely to come across below:

Varying Lines

One of the most important parts of understanding a woodworking plan is to understand the varying lines that you’ll come across. Bold lines are commonly used to depict all baselines, and help to stand each part out from the rest, especially if they overlap.

Then you’ll come across dimension lines, which are used to write measurements on, and these tend to be thinner than bold lines. The last type of line that you’ll come across are broken lines, which are used to depict all concealed aspects of the piece,


Next up, you’re also going to need to get your head around the scale. Though the scale will be significantly smaller than the real deal, you’ll be able to view the full-scale dimensions on top of the woodworking plan.

Numbers and arrows

As we have already mentioned above, alongside all of the varying lines, woodworking plans will also come with a number and arrows that will be able to provide you with further instruction and guidance.

The numbers will usually be used to distinguish between all of the different parts, while the arrows will help you to understand the steps you should follow to correctly assemble the piece.